Review: Hyena

The Gerard Johnson film’s blanket cynicism is its most shopworn quality of all.

Hyena
Photo: Tribeca Film

Narratively, there isn’t much to Hyena to distinguish it from your run-of-the-mill crime drama, abundant as it is in foreign criminals involved in an exploitative underground network of lawlessness, protected by the varyingly corrupt cops who’re supposed to be bringing them down. It also follows a familiar stylistic template: handheld camerawork; muted colors, with a few nightclub scenes bathed in foreboding neon light for the sake of visual variety; and a generally gritty atmosphere pockmarked with moral rot. Ultimately, though, the film’s blanket cynicism is its most shopworn quality of all. This is hardly the uplifting tale of a corrupt policeman who’s actively trying to reform himself: Michael (Peter Ferdinando), a ruthless narc, is more or less simply trying to save his own ass as new criminal elements—in the form of two Albanian brothers who brutally dispose of their Turkish competition—uproot his comfortable coke-snorting, law-defying existence. In essence, Gerard Johnson’s film is a march toward seeing this morally ambiguous main character’s chickens finally come home to roost, but this trajectory feels unimaginative given how little is invested in distinguishing Michael from the other officers on the force beyond the fact that he’s perhaps less corrupt. Two moments, though, hint at the film this could have been. In one strikingly tense scenario, we’re asked to share in the panicked fear of a sex slave, Ariana (Elisa Lasowski), who wishes to be freed from the clutches of the Albanian brothers. Later, Johnson tosses in an unexpected slow-motion sequence in which two of Michael’s crooked colleagues are seen spraying and smearing ketchup on each other in a drug-induced bit of horseplay just before they’re arrested by fellow officers. It’s a blackly comic flash of relative levity in an otherwise cliché-ridden rush toward a final Sopranos-esque cut to black that’s symbolic of how the film is evasive of providing fresh insights into its characters’ pathologies.

Score: 
 Cast: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer  Director: Gerard Johnson  Screenwriter: Gerard Johnson  Distributor: Tribeca Film  Running Time: 112 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2014  Buy: Video

Kenji Fujishima

Kenji Fujishima is a film and theater critic, general arts enthusiast, and constant seeker of the sublime. His writing has also appeared in TheaterMania and In Review Online.

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